Bigger, Badder, Stronger -- Chasing Gear

Most gear chasing has a lot to do with some notion of elimination of constraints. All of it definitely falls into the category of betterness. Ask yourself a question — what is better? Are constraints that either you perceive or some committee in the sky puts in your head a good thing to be eliminated or obliterated?

Before I go down this road I’ll get something out of the way. The notion that one can always turn off any of the “betterness” and go back to where you were before constraints and all. Technically you can but you won’t. Some of you will be thinking — bullshit. Let me explain, eliminating laziness from the equation is only half the battle. That battle is usually lost but even if you win there’s a subtle thing at work here. That subtle thing is the choice, the ability to choose at all is a killer in many cases. Here’s why; You need to absolutely know before the picture is made which particular choice is “better”. In many cases you cannot.

Let’s even take something that could be changed in post processing — simulated in-camera stuff that might happen. There’s still the fallacy of believing that you can and will make the choice for something that happened do to a constraint when making the picture in the fist place. Unlikely but In some rare cases possible.

Things as routine, innocuous, and ubiquitous as auto ISO can be just as bad as they are good. Going a little far even the ability to use any ISO you want can be as bad as it is good. Choice is not always a great thing when the range of choices is vast. How can all of the ISO’s at ones disposal and especially the automation of choosing one be bad? Well that’s easy. The automation and programming parameters of that automation are geared towards generic betterness of the broad photographic committee in the sky. What’s better? Well, as low an ISO as possible to get good IQ but one that allows hand held shutter speeds of moving targets that will render sharp images without motion blur also taking into account the magnification of your particular focal length at the time. Everyone wants sharp images with no motion blur right? Even having the ability to choose something like 1600 or 3200 or 6400 in many cases if it’s there and available will be the default “picture goodness” choice due to conditions.

Yes, yes, yes. Of course people that routinely do really, really, really slow shutter speed stuff also use high and auto ISO for the reverse effect. And there you have it — the only time the motion blur happens is with that choice of special effect. I propose that for a hell of a lot of images you might make you’ll never choose special effect mode by choice unless it’s actually constrained and you cannot make the “better picture committee” choice. A wild example of the times when you make the conscious choice is the now cliche — grab the ND and make the water soft an blurry shot kind of thing. There are countless cases where logic would dictate “no blur” for moving people settings that would work out best with a mix; Some sharp shots, some partially sharp shots, some not so sharp shots.

There’s a shot that’s stuck in my head, actually many but I’ll use this one that crossed my mind. A train station — Grand Central I think — everything’s sharp but the masses of people going about their business, hustling and bustling. Some people are mere blurs, others are static and really sharp, other’s in between.

That shot would be absolutely worse if the photographer happened to have ISO 1600 or 3200 or automation making the “sharp is better” decision. Given when the picture in mind was made he probably had a an ISO 50 or 100 limit, maybe less. I’m 99% sure he didn’t walk in and say I’m going to make a “special effect” picture. He was doing what he could with constraints at the time which made the picture sublime. He also didn’t ND it or close down the aperture to crazy small to eliminate the people altogether — further evidence he wasn’t going slow shutter speed on purpose.

Reminds me of the very first photography book I ever bought when I was twelve or thirteen — still have it — Great book. An example the author gave over the danger of high shutter speeds was a helicopter hovering shot at 1/2000s and then one shot at 1/125th. The shot with the blades stopped looked stupid and unreal. That stuck with me to this day. I’m sure it didn’t really stick when I was a kid or even in my 20’s. It probably stuck because I figured out via real constraints I love pictures of people with subtle motion blurs of movements. Nothing wild, nothing “effect-y” although I’ve done those too. The screenshot shot at the top is one of dozens of examples in a project I’m finishing up that shows what I mean in the hair vs. the rest of it.

I picked the ISO vs shutter speed thing mostly because I’m personally so sensitive to it. I know what I like but even in this case I would have probably picked a higher ISO and higher shutter speed than what I ended up with using. Maybe only a stop higher but there’s a good chance it would have frozen the hair. The only reason I was using the shutter speed I was using was I happened to be shooting film, TRI-X rated at ISO 320 to be exact. Based on my process for this even my digital shot would have been the same(shot a mix of digital and film for the project). With great intent I shot the digital at the same ISO etc as I did the film. I didn’t want night/day variations in rendering on any given collaborations between film/digital shots. Even the example from my last post shows the same thing. Again my choices may not have been the same if I wasn’t constrained to ISO 250 based on where I was shooting the XP2 Super. This shot was digital but using those same constraints.

Check out the hand on the right at a bigger view in new window if you can’t see what I’m talking about. You might say that that shot would be fine with our without the motion blur of the hand. I think it would be worse but let’s say you’re right. My point is that far, far beyond, the easily demonstrated or discussed shutter speed ISO choice and results there are many things like this.

Every time you “upgrade” to eliminate constraints you may be optimizing one particular circumstance of “committee logic” better-ness while eliminating the opportunities, aesthetics, and other different “better”. The availability of choice is in many cases not always a good thing. My personal experience and observations of others proves that even when making the opposite choice of “committee better” optimization it’s in the context of “effect” which is a world of difference and again sometimes great but not always.


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